I absolutely love Stewart McKenny's work. While Aquaman was running around as a flesh-munching zombie in the "regular" DCU, the DC Super Friends title featured Classic Aquaman month in, month out, thanks to regular writer Sholly Fisch and a stable of artists, which includes Mr. McKenny.
Stewart was kind enough to agree to an interview with the Shrine about his career, his work, and how much he likes drawing the Super Friends. He also sent along some beautiful examples of his non-DCSF work, which you will see below:
Aquaman Shrine: What comics did you read growing up?
Stewart McKenny: I have to confess to not reading comics until I was in my late teens, at which time a friend showed me a comic he had, and I was instantly hooked...it was a Claremont/Silvestri Uncanny X-Men by the way:). After that there was no turning back, and my comic book 'addiction' has steadily grown over the years.
AMS: Did you gravitate towards humor comics, even though there weren't that many around?
SM: Not at all actually...I was totally into all the standard superhero titles out there which had relatively 'serious' storylines--if you count a group of outcast mutants fighting a bunch of cyborgs, aliens or other mutants as serious :). I did, and still do, read the odd Mad magazine here and there, but I guess my first introduction to 'humor comics' was Simon Bisley/Alan Grant's Lobo books--although the comics were extremely violent, they were also drawn/written in a 'humorous' way (at least I thought they were anyway).
AMS: What other artistic influences do you have? I see a lot of classic Warner Bros. Animation in your work.
SM: To be honest, my art is in a state of permanent adjustment--I've had the opportunity to learn a lot by working on such varied comic titles, from the more traditional comic book style that was required for Captain America (which I worked on with Eddie Campbell) and Star Wars Tales, to the truly animated style of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures.
Then I've been really blessed to be working for DC for the last few years on DC Super Friends--which has allowed me to play with a very cartoony style--morphing my other two styles into a blend of the two. I tend to take my inspiration from all over the place--all the animated comic book titles/dvds (Bruce Timm's work being a major inspiration) to children's story books, or even just remembering all the crazy stuff I use to draw with friends when I was a little kid (i.e. villains with scars and patches on their eyes and fire-breathing poo monsters :)).
AMS: Did you always want to do comics? Obviously, you don't have a typical style for superhero comics.
SM: I've always drawn, but no, as I mentioned before, I came into comics relatively late. I had originally studied to be to be a graphic designer (and still do that as a day job) but only started actively pursuing professional comic book work about 7-8 years ago.
I've been really blessed in my career so far in that I've got to work with some amazing characters/licences (did I mention I get to draw Aquaman!!!) but have also got to draw them in a fun, cartoony way because the books have been aimed at kids rather than adults.
I think it's no secret that the storylines in DC Super Friends really pay tribute to stories that were written in the Golden Age of comics--which were always full of outlandish fun and adventure. And that's a trend I would love to see make a come back side-by-side with the darker, grittier titles you see a lot of on the shelves today.
AMS: How did you end up on DC Super Friends?
SM: I guess like everyone does--pitching samples at the editors until they finally cave under the weight of your constant pestering:) I was really lucky actually, that my work was recommended to Rachel Gluckstern (the awesome editor of DC Super Friends) and when I did up a few sample pages for her she was willing to give me a go on the team.
It's been an unusual book in that we've been able to draw on a broader range of talent than usual, blending the styles of a number of artists along the way. The covers, and some interiors, drawn by J. Bone have been a real source of inspiration to me, and, of course, I love Dario Brizuela's work (who is also such a consummate professional and all around nice guy). It's been an absolute pleasure to be part of such a brilliant team for the past few years.
AMS: Did you have to put a lot of time into coming up with visual representations of the characters that would satisfy both DC and Mattel?
SM: Yes and no--to start with I did character turn-arounds for all the main Super Friends characters, and it took me a while to 'get in the groove' so to speak so that my drawing matched the toy line upon which the book was based. After a few issues though it all kind of fell into place and was a much smoother and faster process. And DC has been really good too--allowing me the flexibility to add touches of my own style to the original designs of the Mattel toys.
AMS: Do you have to go through any sort of "approval" process when you are drawing characters that aren't part of the DCSF toyline, like, say, Felix Faust?
SM: Other than the final say every editor has over their titles, there have been no other directives (at least as far as I'm aware) placed upon us as artists because of the toy line. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that Mattel had a major role in the comic, but I've never seen any evidence of that--I deal with my editor, and she's been brilliant all the way along. And it's always great to get feedback on character designs from my editor as otherwise, left to my own devices, all my villains would end up wearing dresses, and that wouldn't be pretty:).
AMS: I've noticed, especially in your issues of DCSF, that there will occasionally be bits of business thrown in in the background--a character will be doing something while the main action of the panel is going on. Are details like that specified by writer Sholly Fisch or is it your inspiration to add things like that?
SM: Ha! Ha! You've noticed all those background gags eh? Very cool! It kind of started out as a bit of fun, more to see what I could 'get away with' and to make the comic more appealing for an older, more observant, audience (kind of like The Simpsons does--with one level for the kids and one for the adults). But, over time, it has become something of a tradition and collaboration between Sholly and myself--he'll make the occasional request but, more often than not, he'll just give me the room in his scripts to add my own touches where I can see the opportunity. It's a lot of fun...though I still get the occasional 'slap on the wrist' from my editor for being too naughty:).
AMS: Sholly Fisch uses lots of obscure (very obscure!) characters from DC history in some of the DCSF stories. Do you have to go and do research on some of these characters or do you know this stuff through-and-through as well?
SM: Sholly's knowledge of the DC Universe is truly amazing! I can't even Google search half the characters he puts in his scripts:) Luckily, though, he always provides reference for those more 'lesser known' characters. I also like to do my own research as well so that way, between the two of us, I always have enough information to create a new and fresh take on each character (which I love to do)--while also paying tribute to the original design and making sure I don't break continuity.
AMS: Are you a particular fan of any of the Super Friends? (The answer of "Aquaman" is not required, though welcomed!) Any of them you enjoy drawing more than others?
SM: Sheeeez...I'm going to have to be politically incorrect and say I prefer drawing Wonder Woman (I have a soft spot for drawing girls). But I'm enjoying drawing such incredibly cool DC characters full stop--it's pretty exciting! And Aquaman is always cool to draw because Sholly consistently puts the King of Atlantis in such cool scenes--like pretty much the entire issue of DC Super Friends #12 in which Aquaman saves the day against the underwater menace of Starro (who was such a cute little evil alien conqueror!).
AMS: What else are you working on?
SM: At the moment, I'm just finishing up on my latest issue of DC Super Friends. Apart from that I'm being kept busy with my graphic design day job, commissions and travelling around Australia doing the convention circuit. Obviously, though, I'm pretty keen to get out and expand the horizons a bit--try something new and keep growing as an artist! Maybe your fans could petition for me to work on an Aquaman book!:)
AMS: Sounds good to me!
I really appreciate Stewart taking time out of his very busy schedule to talk to the Shrine. As I've said numerous times before (even in this very post), I love his work and it was way cool of him to send some of his other pieces along. I'd totally be on board with him drawing a solo Aquaman book. Thanks Stewart! (Also special thanks to F.O.A.M.er Shawn Myers for providing me with some scans)
With the DC Super Friends book now a memory (*sniff*), I decided to make this week on the Shrine a mini-tribute to the book. Now that we've talked to Stewart, tomorrow we'll chat with the book's writer, Sholly Fisch! Be here!